Nearly 1,200 attendees from all over the world made their way to the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 28-31, for Arival—a conference event dedicated to the creators and sellers of in-destination tours, activities, attractions, events and experiences. It was quite the extravaganza.
The mix of attendees included representatives from a host of different online travel agencies (OTAs), reservation tech companies and ticketing systems, tourism marketing thought leaders, more than 60 speakers, and nearly 400 tour and attraction operators. The daily schedule included traditional workshops presented by experts in their respective fields, along with sponsored product demos by a variety of tech providers.
Each morning, though, everyone gathered to watch and listen while Arival leadership—including CEO Douglas Quinby, COO Bruce Rossard, and managing editor Jenna Blumenfeld—facilitated on-stage talks with industry executives and presentations from different companies, small and large. These daily kickoffs had high production value, akin to an Apple product launch.
One of the more entertaining, and revealing, interactions occurred when the heads of four major reservation systems—Checkfront, FareHarbor, Peek, and Rezdy—joined Quinby on stage for a roundtable discussion aimed at addressing operator concerns and questions, and the future of the industry. Some fairly heated exchanges ensued.
FareHarbor CEO Max Valverde, whose company was acquired in 2018 by Booking Holdings, parent company of OTA booking.com, was often the target. Many feel an OTA acquiring a reservation system creates conflict. It presents potential issues of sharing guest data between the two, and operators are concerned “about the pricing power OTAs have exerted in other industries,” said Peek CEO Ruzwana Bashir, likely referring to how the hotel industry has lost control of its pricing and booking channels due to the clout of OTAs.
Valverde wasn’t deterred. “Honestly, this is just fear-mongering,” he responded, and assured everyone in the room that data privacy is paramount at Booking thanks to its army of lawyers. And when addressing booking software company consolidation, he said, “When you run with the elephants, there are the fast and there are the dead,” which drew a mixed reaction from the crowd.
Pointed—yet far less contentious—conversations prevailed, which made for an incredibly productive and educational four days. The Adventure Park Insider team members who attended saw several of our supplier partners and friends, but few aerial adventure operators. Arival does focus a lot on tours—food tours, bike tours, boat tours, etc.—but the content of the event, and the networking opportunities it presents, would likely benefit many in our industry. It’s worth looking into.